a. HS2, the Handsacre Link, Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield
In an October 2014 HS2 report and a November 2015 Department for Transport report it was proposed that Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield could be served by classic-compatible trains via the Handsacre Link.
Following the decision to bring Phase 2a, the high speed Lichfield to Crewe line, forward six years to 2027, the obsolete Handsacre Link is being presented as the key to delivering HS2 services to Stafford, S-o-T and Macclesfield. In reality there are better ways to deliver these services. The link will cause delays to HS2 users travelling to and from Liverpool and Macclesfield, and waste scarce capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) between Lichfield and Crewe. A solution that would avoid such delays and loss of capacity is the cost neutral replacement of the Handsacre Link with the Meaford Curve.
See section 2, Curzon Street vs New Street Stations here and section 4, Handsacre Link and Stafford here for reasons why the Handsacre Link should be replaced by the Meaford Curve and Stafford receive its HS2 services from the south via Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
b. The Meaford Curve and HS2
HS2 Ltd is minded to provide an hourly HS2 service between London and Macclesfield via S-o-T using the obsolete Handsacre Link. From there it will run on the congested WCML, through Colwich Junction (speed limit 45mph), and through the pinch point of the two-track Shugborough tunnel to Stafford. After a stop there it will take the WCML ‘slow’ line north via Norton Bridge Junction through Stone (speed limit 25mph!). After Stone the service reaches the eastern leg of the WCML towards S-o-T and Macclesfield. Taking that route will result in an extra 17 minutes journey time compared with a service staying on the 2027 Phase 2a line towards Crewe, bypassing Stafford and using the proposed Meaford Curve near Stone to reach S-o-T and Macclesfield.
The Meaford Curve will provide a link between the western arm of the HS2 ‘Y’ at Stone and the WCML branch towards S-o-T, Macclesfield and Manchester. It is described as the 'Stone HSL Connector' by Stoke-on-Trent City Council on pages 51 to 54 of its January 2014 response to the HS2 Phase 2 consultation. Unlike the Meaford Curve proposed here, Stoke City Council’s HSL connector directed all HS2 traffic bound for the Northwest and Scotland through Stoke-on-Trent, not Crewe. Crewe and S-o-T were then both competing for a HS2 hub.
The route of the Meaford Curve: Moving north on the HS2 line west of Stone the Meaford Curve would begin near Micklow House Farm, curve north over the Norton Bridge to Stone rail link, across Yarnfield Lane, west of Darlaston Grange, through Darlaston Park, across the river Trent and the A34, run between Meaford Road and the Trent and Mersey canal, crossing that canal south of Siddall’s Bridge before joining the WCML towards S-o-T north of Turnover Bridge, near the former Meaford power station site.
Removal of the 2 level crossings at Barlaston would allow line speed to be increased and further cut journey times. Safety there would also be improved.
c. The Meaford Curve and Network Rail
The present rail services between London and Manchester via S-o-T and Macclesfield will be replaced by HS2 services using the Meaford Curve. As argued by Greengauge 21 in pages 7 and 8 of their August 2014 report ‘Stoke and Staffordshire can be key HS2 beneficiaries’, the 18km rail link between Colwich Junction and Stone will become redundant and can be taken out of use together with 3 level crossings in Stone. As well as improving the environment and safety in Stone, this would lead to Colwich Junction losing its junction: the WCML there would become unimpeded by points and crossings. The current 45mph speed limit would end and journey times would be cut.
The Meaford Curve would, like the Handsacre Link, now be used by only one HS2 service per hour. But, unlike the Handsacre Link, the Meaford Curve can also be used by up to eight conventional rail services per hour if a short Network Rail link is made from the Meaford Curve to the present rail link connecting Stone with Norton Bridge. This would mean shorter journey times not only for HS2 users but also for users of conventional services travelling between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford and beyond.
d. Costs and benefits
In section 4 Handsacre Link and Stafford, here, it was shown that replacing the obsolete Handsacre Link with the Meaford Curve would be cost neutral but the Meaford Curve would create annual user benefits of more than £26M due to reduced journey times of HS2 services to Liverpool and Macclesfield. Replacing the Handsacre Link would also free 2 paths per hour in each direction on the busy WCML between Lichfield and Crewe. Two purposes of HS2 are to reduce journey times and release capacity on the congested WCML. Regrettably, HS2 Ltd appear intent on meeting neither, despite the obvious benefits of doing so.
Other important benefits derived from the Meaford Curve would be environmental and in safety. The present 18km railway line between Colwich Junction and Stone, running alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal and the River Trent, could be closed and put to community use. 3 level crossings in Stone would no longer be required and noise and vibration from the railway through Stone would be eliminated.
Since the above was written HS2 has transferred the slow Liverpool service from the WCML to the fast Phase 2a line, thereby gaining an annual £14M of the user benefits which would be derived by axing the Handsacre Link. This action has also released one hourly path on the WCML between Lichfield and Crewe. That leaves an hourly WCML path and a £12M annual user benefit that can still be gained by the cost neutral replacement of the Handsacre Link with the Meaford Curve, in addition to the closure of 18km of the WCML and 3 level crossings. To those benefits could be added those derived from shorter journey times for users of conventional services travelling between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford and beyond.
HS2 services as currently planned to run between Macclesfield and London via Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford will be no faster than the current Pendolino services running between Macclesfield and London via S-o-T, bypassing Stafford. Therefore, if the Meaford Curve cannot be afforded, in order to represent a modicum of progress, any HS2 services planned to run between Macclesfield and London via S-o-T must be routed direct between Stone and Colwich Junction, and not call at Stafford.
This section last revised 24 September 2019